With a bright red jacket and vibrant orange eyeshadow, Greya stands out against the desolate, vacant backdrops in a new music video for latest single, “Thrive,” about a one-sided relationship and the unrequited passion that comes along with it. “The song itself is pretty literal, so we wanted to accentuate the feelings that come with a toxic relationship and emulate them through various settings and emotions,” Greya explains. “You see me alone outside a gas station, going through a kind of mourning, contrasted with an ideal relationship, which we personified at the beach.”
Director and videographer Hannah Gray Hall shot Greya opposite Tony Woodland, who plays her love interest, at Percy Priest Lake and an abandoned storefront in East Nashville. Greya’s bold red jacket symbolizes dauntless energy; red is a color of love, anger, and in some cultures, death. Greya blooms like a flower in the grey landscape—one that, with some courage, will bloom again despite being beaten and bruised.
Extraordinarily, the entire process of making the video came together in the span of three days, including post-production. Greya met her director on set while shooting a video for her previous single “He,” where they instantly connected. “When the ‘Thrive’ video situation became a time crunch, my roommate suggested giving her a call and within minutes we had a shoot date and concept down,” Greya says. With help on set from Greya’s roommates (and a bottle of whiskey they shared to keep warm), the group had the shoot down in one day.
A Philly native, Greya is no stranger to the music scene, having picked up a guitar at age 10 only to start writing songs a year later. She has learned to express herself fearlessly in writing sessions with the likes of Shannon Sanders, Sacha Skarbek, Flo Reuter, and her “Thrive” co-writers Jasper Leak and Chris Keup, resulting in the arresting debut singles she released last year, “He” and “All Hell Breaks Loose.” But self-expression wasn’t always second nature to Greya.
“Developing confidence really evolved all aspects of my music,” she says. “I spent a lot of time questioning myself, which of course pretty much affected everything I did. Getting past the self-doubt is both my biggest accomplishment and my biggest evolution in music.”
With her latest release, we see that the confidence extends to Greya’s personal life as she describes leaving a destructive relationship, finally realizing that her emotions came second to her partner’s selfishness and deciding to let go, while holding space for the heartache she’s suffered. She sings, “Why do I always do this?/Want the guy that always puts me through it.” It’s easy to say in these moments of self-awareness that you’ve learned your lesson, but it’s a lifelong learning process according to Greya. “On paper, I now know how important it is to be up front when getting into any new relationship, which I’ve never done in the past,” she says. “I was always so concerned with being the ‘chill girl’ who didn’t ask too many questions, but that becomes a really difficult hole to climb out of. Going forward, I’d like to be straight up, but that’s easier said than done.”
Despite how many times our hearts are broken, we’re only human. For Greya, facing the sadness in one relationship doesn’t provide immunity for others to come – and that’s okay. “The short answer is yes, I’ve become aware of some things that could improve relationships in the future,” she says. “But the long answer is no, because I usually mess that kind of thing up one way or another.”
In her video for “The Pharmacy,” singer CrowJane appears as a demon with blank eyes and a mouth oozing black goo as she writhes in chains, her long, sharp fingernails nearly scratching herself as her shackled hands clench and release.
CrowJane (sometimes also credited as Heather Galipo) is best known for her work as guitarist for the goth-leaning, post-punk band Egrets on Ergot and vocalist for the noise rock outfit Prissy Whip. She’s also a makeup artist in the film industry, whose professional work includes special effects makeup. With her debut full-length, Mater Dolorosa, out on September 15, and its accompanying videos, CrowJane merges her aural and visual creative pursuits.
“I do this to so many people,” she says by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “It’s always good to get a taste of what it’s like to be in the makeup because then you remember, this kind of sucks. You can barely see. You can’t touch things. You have a bunch of black stuff in your mouth and it tastes gross.”
She worked with Paul Roessler, the musician and producer who has been active in the L.A. scene since the punk era, with credits that include The Screamers, Nina Hagen and 45 Grave.
The two first bonded when Roessler produced music for Egrets on Ergot. Galipo recalls Roessler bringing her into the studio and encouraging her to write songs. She had intended to stick with an acoustic guitar, but, as they worked, the music morphed into something experimental. They made percussion instruments and created tracks that would become rhythmic and atmospheric.
“It sort of started as a therapy session, to be honest,” says Galipo about the album. “It was a way to get through a battle with addiction and different hardships in my life having to do with abuse and the list could go on and on.”
Roessler became her “spiritual guide,” in addition to her producer, co-writer and friend, on what would be both a musical and personal journey (Galipo has now been sober for almost five years).
She had put those ten songs aside, though, while focusing on her other projects and they would stay on the back burner for several years. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, she was left without work and had spare time on her hands. Galipo had considered releasing the album herself, but Roessler suggested that she try to work with a label. That led CrowJane to Kitten Robot, which is run by new wave singer Josie Cotton.
With the album release coming at a time when work is slim in the film world, CrowJane had friends join forces to (safely) make music videos.
The first of those clips, “Terminal Secrets,” was released in August and is an exercise in stop-motion animation, where CrowJane made masks of her own face. “I had never shot anything in stop-motion before and I really admire it,” she says. The clip was shot at 12 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24 frames per second. “Even then, we would work for 10 hours or maybe a little less and then walk out of there with maybe 10 seconds of footage,” she says.
For a forthcoming video of her cover of James Brown’s song “Man’s World,” she used leftover prop hands to make a pet that looks like a hand in a snail shell. It’s her favorite piece that she’s made for the videos so far.
“Part of the reason that I got into makeup effects is because I was so in awe into what these people can create,” says Galipo. Having the opportunity to bring together her love of movie makeup and effects with her own music has been a special experience. “I get to exercise the muscles of all the things that I love to do creatively and it all comes together,” she says.
The timing of the album presented CrowJane with an opportunity to flex her visual art skills as part of the project in a way that might not have otherwise been possible. Also, the time that elapsed between recording the album and the release of it gave her a chance to reflect on the material. She says that the meaning of some of the lyrics have changed for her over the years.
“If I hear the words that I wrote, some of the things that I would write about my abusers, I realized that I was writing more about myself,” she says. “Now that I look back, it’s interesting to see how that progresses. I’m grateful for everything that I did. My life is in a much better place and I appreciate everything that art has given me.”
Samantha Tieger has two passions in life: music and language. “I really have this strong desire to connect with other people, whether it’s through language or music,” the Cincinnati-born, now Nashville-based singer professes.
She marries these two passions on her debut self-titled EP – particularly on poignant closing number, “You Light Me Up,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. Tieger has established a self-described “chill pop” sound: cinematic violin and piano layered over soft vocals that evoke a dreamlike feeling, capturing the sense of peace Tieger felt in the relationship that inspired the lyrics. “You light me up with your love,” Tieger sings, comparing that feeling to walking on air and brightening up the night. “I think it can be so easy to write about heartache and the negatives in a relationship, and for me, writing is such a good way to work through all of that,” she explains. “In this song, I really wanted to focus on positive elements of a relationship and I wanted the production and the vocal elements to reflect comfort and peace and joy.”
Tieger drew inspiration from the “good parts” of a previous relationship that were as sweet and simple as watching TV and cooking dinner together. When writing the gentle number with Ed O’Donnell, Tieger had a specific idea in mind of wanting the listener to feel as if a weight had been lifted off one’s shoulders. “I wanted the song to be like a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air of ‘now I feel okay at the end of the day because of you,’” she describes. “You Light Me Up” is the light at the end of an EP that was born out of a series of emotional experiences Tieger endured through past relationships and breakups. “Close My Eyes” is particularly relevant, as Tieger wrote it about feeling distanced from her friends and family a year before the COVID-19 pandemic kept the world six feet apart.
At that time, writing the EP was simply about Tieger processing complex emotions. “I think it’s easier for me to close the book on certain chapters in my life after I’ve written about them. I feel really frustrated and sad about certain things and once I’ve written it down, I can move on,” she says. “To hear a song come to life that I wrote about an experience that was so emotional for me to go through, hearing the music come together, it’s thrilling and emotional at the same time.”
The EP is a reflection of Tieger being a lifelong learner of music and language. She grew up studying Spanish, French and Latin around the same time she had a budding interest in music. She later pursued a degree in Romance Studies at Duke University, her language studies taking her to immersion programs around the world in such countries as Spain, Argentina and Costa Rica. “Somebody recently said ‘you just have this strong desire to connect,’ and I think language is such a key to connection and music is a key to connection,” Tieger analyzes. The singer at one time was writing music in Spanish and French, a skill she hopes to resume in the form of cover songs in foreign languages.
It’s through the relationship between music and language that Tieger learned how to communicate her emotions, a gift she combines with her global perspective and transcendental sound that’s bound to leave a distinct mark on the Nashville scene. “Music really became a way for me to understand my thoughts and feelings and what I was going through,” she asserts. “Life’s too short to not tell people how you really feel.”
Samantha Tieger’s self-titled EP is available everywhere September 4. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.
Blake English channels monsters of his past directly into his visuals. It also helps that he has a deep love for horror films. As far as the new clip for “Sad Girls Dance Party” goes, he incorporates his tenuous, very complicated relationship with his father as the emotional base while exploring his personal transformation through gnarly body-horror and other frightening imagery. “I’m just a freak in this fucked up scene,” he wails.
Sticky musical webs spew from his fingertips, but it is his brutal honesty that’s most magnetic. “You know, my dad was basically a kid when he had me at 24. He also experienced a lot of trauma in his childhood that he hadn’t dealt with, which no doubt is why it was projected on me,” English shares with Audiofemme. “Mental health wasn’t exactly a part of the conversation in his household growing up, so he was left to figure it out on his own. But after having me, as him and I struggled to find common ground, he began to grow just as I was growing.”
“Sad Girls” opens on English, soaking in a clawfoot bathtub filled with ice cubes. A single overhead bulb emits a cool blue light that falls down around him to give the scene a certain ominous feel. Things immediately escalate as a four-legged creature crawls out of his stomach and through his mouth, its tentacles writhing in a sticky purple goo and nearly suffocating him to death. The singer collapses from the trauma. It’s an important moment that sets in motion the visual’s powerful narrative, chronologically moving from an innocent young boy trying on lipstick to an independent and fierce 20-something badass.
“The video really plays with the idea of finding beauty in the horror ─ finding comfort in something that otherwise would be unsettling,” he explain, noting that the scene was inspired by his all-time favorite movie, Aliens. “I wanted this video to play as an homage to all my favorite horror films with me getting to play in the middle of them,” he explains.
Always hypnotized by horror storytelling and filmmaking, creature-features were his gateway drug at a very young age. “My parents used to take me to Kmart every Friday night and pick out a creature-like action figure that I’d then play with amongst my sister’s barbies,” he remembers, citing such essentials as Gremlins and Critters. English draws upon a vast collection of favorite horror films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dracula, The Thing, and The Strangers, as well as recent TV shows like Stranger Things and American Horror Story. “I wanted to leave it open for horror lovers to see if they can find all the references within this music video,” he adds.
The horror genre has a particular raw honesty to its stories: exposing the darkest fears of mankind through an extreme, heightened, and violent reality. “I think horror storytelling is extremely interesting because it’s relatively the same with every story with little variances here and there, and it remains intriguing,” he says. “It’s a formula that works over and over and over again. It continues to scare. It continues to excite. I’m a huge lover of haunted mazes that pop up around Halloween time, and the jump scares get me every time. I can be scared the same way over and over again and never be desensitized to it, which makes it all the more thrilling for me.”
It stands to reason, then, he’d have his own concepts tucked up his sleeve. “I actually am in the middle of writing a few horror movie scripts that hopefully you’ll see as features in the future if we can ever escape this pandemic mess,” he teases. “One deals with a cult; one deals with a haunted toy; and one deals in the science fiction dystopian world.”
“Sad Girls Dance Party” is the tip of the iceberg of English’s truly outstanding debut EP, Spiders Make Great Poets. You can always trust he’ll ground his songs in deep, meaningful lyrics ripped right out of his life. The most impressive is “The Neighbors,” a five-minute and 30-second epic in the vein of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. “What will the neighbors say/When they hear the son is gay/Daughter’s a meth addict/Mom’s drunk and sick of it,” he chants. “Daddy got paid today/But beat mommy anyway…”
Much like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song sheds layers, redresses, and shifts with alarming ease. A co-write with Gabe Lopez, English actually had the entire song written and “swimming around in my head before taking it to him to bring it to life,” he recalls. “It helps that Gabe is one of my best friends, so he knows very well what my influences are and how to integrate them throughout the production. He’s also a genius musician which was required for this song, in particular, with all the tempo and key changes.”
With the longest runtime of any song on the EP, its length was an intentional choice to not only totally immerse the listener but give him a grand theatrical moment onstage (in a pre-pandemic world). “It’s something that takes you through a true beginning, middle, and end,” he says, noting the lead vocal was done in one take.
“We tried recording it the typical way where the lead is recorded in sections, and then the best parts are spliced together to get that ‘perfect’ vocal,” he continues, “but it just wasn’t sounding the way it needed to. By suggestion of Gabe, we decided to record three full takes and chose the best of them.”
Later, with “A Ghost I Knew from Yesterday,” English vents his frustrations over those in his life who voted for Trump. “And what’s worst of all if I give you up/Is knowing you will never change,” he sings. His heart is heavy, mimicked with the slow, methodical guitar work, and the lyrics are as knotted as the issue itself. “I see who you were fade away/A ghost I knew from yesterday,” he weeps.
“I go back and forth on this as new situations arise that frustrate me with his presidency. I don’t, however, think it’s as black and white as it’s made out to be in the current social climate. I view him less as a villain and more as an incompetent fool that has conned a certain portion of Americans,” explains English. “Unfortunately, some of those people are my relatives, and when you talk to them, they truly believe that they voted for him with the best intentions. So, it’s a difficult spot that is a test of patience for everyone right now. I think that as painful as it can be, having conversations with those you differ from is the only way to create a change of heart within them.” Equipping oneself with the facts and “a pretty keen sense of self control,” he says, is as vital to the conversation. “Susan Rice said it best. To paraphrase: ‘It’s harder to hate someone when you know them personally.’ And I think that by distancing yourself from those that have been, for lack of a better term, misinformed, we are only further dividing ourselves and thus not creating any change.”
Change not only happens when we have those tough conversations but reflect inward and really listen. “These past four years have been a huge reflection for everyone, I think. Trump has been a big ugly mirror to the United States, as a whole, which prevents us from living in self-centered complacency,” he says. “If you’re not reflecting on issues of systemic racism, sex, gender, domestic and international politics, workplace ethics, misogyny, distribution of wealth, economics, equality as a whole – and the list goes on and on – your head is truly in the sand and unfortunately you will be left behind in a world that was, while the rest of us progress towards a better future.”
English’s “United States of Depression” bookends the project with his grittiest, most explosive moment. “I take the little blue pills/Just to cope with all the damage/And still I see no end in sight/Yet they say I can manage/Just up the dose/Let’s have a toast,” he sings. The song confronts his struggle with mental health and wide-sweeping changes he’s already seen. “I am so grateful to everyone who has shifted the world’s view of mental health as a valid concern in moving forward as a human race,” he says. “I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. My battle with it has involved therapy, medication, mediation, spirituality and all things in between. It’s not a very exact science as everyone is different and needs different things to improve.”
His mental war came to a head when he once left a movie theatre and had to go straight to a hospital. “I thought I was dying, and really, I was having a panic attack and just didn’t know what to call it,” he remembers. “I will say, I’m better than I’ve ever been at this moment, but it is a constant struggle.”
The importance of writing and recording Spiders Make Great Poets can never be understated. It’s done more than just satiate his creative thirst; it has soothed his anxiety-addled mind from further damage. Horror movies, an unconditionally loving support system, reading, and the ocean have all also assisted in keeping him grounded, healthy, and sane.
“Something I discovered through [this EP] process is that if I put it in a song, it allows the emotional charge to live there and free up space within me for newer and more nuanced perspectives not so affected by my past,” he concludes. “So, with all these songs, the pain gets to live in them separate from me where now I can be an objective viewer instead of being the one experiencing it.”
Perusing through Julia Wolf’s Instagram, the combination of quirky photoshopped selfies, documentary style videos shot with her younger sister, and peeks into her songwriting process made her feel instantly familiar to me – like someone I may have grown up with, or met at the classical music festivals I attended as a kid. As it turns out, we haven’t crossed paths in this lifetime, but in conversation her vulnerability and openness was magnetic. A classically trained pianist, vocalist, and brilliant top liner – WOLF’s music embodies old soul dynamic energy with a modern flare and 808s. The stage name WOLF was actually inspired by her little sister’s childhood protective imaginary friend. “Every night she’d say, ‘Good night, Wolf’ to her imaginary pet. It kind of just stuck with us through the years,” she remembers. “She still says it now, just out of habit.” It was a natural choice for Julia’s stage name, which she says she “didn’t want to be super contemporary – I wanted something that was going to really stand out.”
Wolf began releasing songs last year, beginning with “Captions,” “Immortale,” and “Chlorine,” introducing her honey silk vocal tone and confessional, stream-of-consciousness lyrical style: “The nostalgia trips me up/I miss being small like the first time/Driving with no parents in the car/Need to stop quitting before I start/Got my flip flops cutting me up while I walk.” The cadence of her flow and succinct melodies expressed a duality of emotional depth and vulnerability with a pinch of defiance and empowerment. A love child from a cross-genre mixtape your first crush made for you in middle school, wrapped in aged holiday paper, slipped through the space between the window and the seat on the after school bus.
Since the age of seven, Julia Wolf found refuge playing classical music on a white baby grand piano that was gifted as surprise from her father to nurture and develop her musical talents. A rigid dichotomy between social introversion and a passion for performance eventually led to routine participation at her school’s talent shows. “As a teenager I was extremely shy, and I just couldn’t talk to people. It didn’t make any sense why I was always performing, but it was the one thing that I just loved to do,” she says. “Eventually my teacher said, if you want to perform in the senior showcase talent show, it has to be an original song. I was mortified. My first song kind of wrote itself. It was about my best friend at the time. I was a senior, and she was a junior. I was going to be leaving for college and it was about always finding time for each other no matter what. Although I couldn’t connect with most people face to face, it was surprisingly easy for me to express myself through songwriting, almost an unhealthy justification for being so quiet.” Though that song is unreleased, Wolf dissects these indelible personality traits on recent single “Pillow”: “I will never act like something I’m not/Don’t blame my shyness/I just don’t wanna talk/But I think a lot/People can interpret it however they want.”
Though her songs seem effortless and natural, it took a long time for Wolf to bring them to life. She studied at the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, focusing on music composition and taking a gap year to study classical under Darren Solomon, who encouraged Julia to consider a future as a concert pianist. She eventually returned to her left-field indie pop songs, independently producing demos out of necessity, but they fell just short of what she longed to achieve with them. “Throughout college and then the years following that, I was constantly hitting up different producers because my knowledge only took me to a certain level,” she says. “It still wasn’t matching what was in my head. Trying to find people to work with was so unsuccessful. It became really heartbreaking because I would send demos to be mixed and I would get mixes back that were literally unrecognizable. I even cried, and I’m not a crier.”
This disappointment led to her father suggesting a return to his hometown in Italy and starting a family run pizza business. Both of Wolf’s parents are native Italians – you can hear Wolf’s heritage in bilingual single “Immortale” – and felt that a fresh start as an American artist in Italy would provide a new beginning for Julia and be a good move for the family overall. At first, Wolf didn’t see it that way. “I just was so devastated. I thought my music career wasn’t going to work out for me based solely on the fact that I just couldn’t find people to help bring to life the vision,” she says.
A serendipitous internet connection with Jackson Foote (of NYC-based electro-pop duo Loote) changed everything. Foote stumbled upon a soundbite from a live performance posted on WOLF’s Instagram story and casually asked if he could take a stab at flushing out production for the track. “I had been searching for collaborative artists for years before meeting Jackson and it was one dead end after the next. I never realized finding someone on the same wavelength as me, who understood the sound I wanted, would be so completely impossible,” Wolf says. “But when Jackson and I started working together there were two things I immediately knew: one was how rare our musical alignment was, and two that I wanted to continue working with him for as long as our creativity would let us.” This organic partnership would eventually birth the first batch of tracks that matched her true sonic vision. Her cross-genre, R&B-tinged pop has since gone viral on Spotify.
Wolf’s distinctive music style might come as a surprise to some; she says she’s often pigeonholed as the singer-songwriter type at a glance. “When people look at me… they’re always surprised when I say, like, yeah, I listen to rap or, you know, this is what my music sounds like,” she says. “I feel like I have definitely been boxed in, at least for like the beginning half of my career. And that’s why I never put music out, because it wasn’t exactly what I was envisioning to represent myself.”
By teaching herself Photoshop, Wolf’s surrealist artwork (heavily inspired by the album art of Tyler the Creator) completes her sonic world. Her imagery carves out a unique visual space for the project, and separates Wolf from the typical self-promoting artists taking selfies at coffee shops in Silver Lake. She creates whimsical collages, layering skeleton fingers over a fleshed out hand holding a vintage mirror, shooting laser beams or dribbling crystalized tear drops from her deep set eyes.
The lyrics always come first for Wolf as the main focal point followed by the melody. She gets most of her inspiration from Soundcloud, where she spends time discovering up-and-coming rappers. She’s also heavily influenced by the lyricism and genius of Frank Ocean: “It’s just really the attention to detail that I love so much about him and the way he could say so much with so little. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do, is to just simplify how you’re feeling,” she says. She says SZA is another big influence for the same reason, adding, “I’ve always gravitated towards rap. I don’t know if it’s the beat that’s behind it or the change up in flow and being able to keep a song so interesting without melody. Blows my mind.” You can hear those influences strongly on her latest single, “Play Dead,” which dissects the “evil” behavior she’s guilty of acting out in a doomed relationship. But she’s also inspired by pop punk bands like The Front Bottoms. “I was always the first in the mosh pit, and really let loose,” she says. “Their live shows are just so much fun, and it’s also inspiring to see people storm the stage and just feel like they can completely be themselves.”
Wolf has been riding out the pandemic in NYC, and while the isolation is not unusual for a writer who values her solitude, she says, the biggest difference between her normal hermetic routine and quarantine is that the latter “feels way more forced – and that has definitely challenged the creative process.” Of course, the location itself has a silver lining. “Being in NYC in general has taught me that artists can find inspiration in all types of circumstances; there’s a fundamental need to create when you feel you have something to say,” Wolf points out. “The state of the world right now is a heavy mixture of chaos, unjustness, sadness… but watching people create change is 100% motivating and highlights the beauty that comes from speaking your truth.”
For now, her plan is to drop a few more singles before turning her gaze to a full-length release. “I’m getting a lot closer to releasing an album but want to make sure the timing is right,” she says. “It’s a body of work I’m proud of and while I’m tempted to just release it, like most things in life, rushing always backfires.”
Growing up in Austin, 18-year-old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist Alex McArtor would often attend concerts and music festivals as a kid. These were the earliest inspiration for her music career – and they also led her to reflect on the mystique surrounding musicians.
“I grew up around music, and my parents were always talking about the Elvises and stuff like that, and how ‘Oh my god, they were so amazing,'” she recalls. “I grew up seeing these people as not human.” She remembers going to one particular festival in middle school and “worshipping” a band that was playing, then feeling underwhelmed when she actually met the members. “When you see something from far away, it can be anything you want it to be — say some guy on stage looking like a total god,” she says. “And then you meet him and it just kills that magic of that.”
That experience was the inspiration for her latest single, “Biggest Fan,” which was actually one of the first songs she wrote many years ago. McArtor’s deep, crisp voice, acoustic guitar, and somber lyrics conjure up Lana del Rey with a hint of classic rock as she paints a picture of a woman following a glamorous rockstar to his room, a “silver castle on the moon” that nevertheless “tastes like litter and cheap perfume.” In the catchy chorus, she sings: “Starry-eyed, she’s hypnotized/Wants to stay with him for the night/Says I’m your biggest fan.”
Inspired by The Carpenters’ “Superstar” (and Sonic Youth’s cover of it), McArtor used lots of reverb, echoing effects, and weighed-down electric guitar toward the end. “[Sonic Youth] gave it a very whimsical kind of alternate reality,” she says. “There was just a feeling when you heard it, and I kind of wanted to use the same instrumentation for my song as they did.” McArtor also uses film as songwriting inspiration, playing the music as she watches a movie on mute or looks at a still. For this one, she used The Virgin Suicides, perhaps apt given the naive yet disillusioned woman at the center of the song.
She worked with an artist called MadHag to create a dream-like visualizer for the single. MadHag drew a man and a woman outside amid giant flowers and a colorful, starry sky, and then animated it. “I’m a big fan of supporting young artists because I’m also an artist, especially girls,” says McArtor. “I was like, ‘Tell me what you see when you hear this song.’ I wanted this to be youthful and almost naive in the artwork, and she gave that to me. You have the stars, and it’s very whimsical.”
McArtor released her first two EPs, Spoken Word and Heart Talk, Vol. I, last year, showcasing dark, dramatic rock songs like “Touch” as well as folkier ones like “East Coast.” Despite her age, many of her songs have an older sound to them, which she chalks up to influences like Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac. With plans to complete her senior year of high school in New Hampshire – after spending the past year homeschooling in Dallas – she’s still not sure if she wants to go to college or not. But she’ll certainly continue to write new music — a promising endeavor, as her earliest work already displays an impressive mastery of sound and lyrical depth.
As the world seems to go through one travail after another, sometimes all we can count on to lift us up are the kind words and love of the people around us (or on our screens, as is often the case nowadays). That’s what queer, gender-fluid Scottish-Canadian singer-songwriter Evangeline Gentle reminds us of in their single, “Ordinary People,” an ode to “loved ones who keep me soft when I’m feeling hardened by the world,” they explain.
“It’s brave to be hopeful in this world/It’s brave to be kind,” they sing in a live acoustic performance being released on video today. “Just when I think I’d had enough, your love is a little bit of sweetness/Life softens at your touch.” Though the song was written a while ago, some of the lyrics seem suited to the current moment, such as “Headline after headline draining me/Oh the ugly things ordinary people do for more money.”
With Gentle’s voice front and center against acoustic guitar, the song is simple and sweet, as is the video, which was filmed in Peterborough, Ontario at the Sisters of St. Joseph’s convent. “I had been filming another full production video in their old laundry building, and the director Rob Viscardis and I decided to film a live version of ‘Ordinary People’ for the fun of it while we were there with the crew,” Gentle remembers.
Gentle’s past music embodies the same minimalist aesthetic as “Ordinary People.” Their latest singles, “You and I” and “Black is the Colour,” were both done a cappella and sound almost like old hymns, with repetitive melodies and universal, timeless lyrics.
On August 21, they’re releasing their first album, which will include the studio version of “Ordinary People” and other songs with a similar overarching message – “that despite all of the ways that we are different, we do share the same visceral experience of life,” they explain, quoting a line from “Black is the Colour.” “It’s hard not to feel connected when we realize this.”
The 23-year-old began writing the album at age 19, and the years it was in the making were full of self-discovery and coming-of-age moments, as well as artistic growth. At the end, Gentle realized that each of the songs in their own way was about the struggle to remain open-hearted amid pain and uncertainty.
“[The album is] driven by the belief that it takes extreme strength to be vulnerable, but that the rewards of doing so are far greater than those of being closed-off in the name of self-preservation,” they explain. This idea led to the chorus of the final track: “How do we become good and guided by the heart?”
Gentle, who started performing live by opening for touring bands in high school, considers the female icons of folk, like the Dixie Chicks and Dolly Parton, their biggest influences, though they’re also a big Taylor Swift fan who’s admittedly listened to “Lover” 50 times in a row.
Their goal with the new album was to incorporate poppier elements and expand on the traditional folk genre. “I wanted to experiment with synth arrangements, and I wanted to step outside of the genre I’d felt pigeonholed into as a ‘female singer-songwriter,'” they say.
Pigeonholing is something Gentle is familiar with as a queer artist, but ultimately something they’ve moved beyond. “I’ve spent lots of time struggling with internalized queer-phobia and this idea that I’m less likely to achieve what I want to with my life because of who I am,” they explain. “I don’t feel like that anymore. My hope has always been that in being an openly queer musician, I might help somebody feel less alone or inspire somebody held back by the same shame I have been to imagine a brighter future for themselves and the world.”
Follow Evangeline Gentle on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Pop musician Xani Kolac is a rare, prodigious creature. Best known for touring the festival circuit throughout Australia with her her violin-and-drums duo The Twoks, Kolac has been steadily releasing solo EPs that blend strings, electronics, and her beguiling voice since 2017. Her third EP, a collection of instrumentals released last year, was entirely improvised in the studio. Kolac has been building toward releasing her first full-length for a while now, and this September, she’ll see that dream come to fruition with From The Bottom Of The Well, which she says contains “pieces of personal growth, connections with other caring and surviving souls, wisdom and words of advice and pop songs to pick me up” despite being “written down in the depths of despair.”
Kolac began playing violin at the age of seven, and says, “By the time I was eleven I was recording myself playing violin on cassette tapes and overdubbing layers of additional violin and singing. I loved writing lyrics at that age, mostly songs about about knee-high socks falling down.” She recalls collaborating with her younger sister Meg as a jazz duo playing gigs at the local pizza restaurant in Melbourne, too. “We were a hit there, so we decided to write our own ’50s-inspired girl pop and started our little duo called Fluffin’ The Duck, with me on violin and Meg on double bass,” she remembers. “Some of my favourite collaborations are with my sister or close friends, just sharing music together.”
Her upcoming album, recorded in her lovingly constructed home studio, has evolved mightily from primary school topics and pizzeria tours to explore sacred music, art and instrumental adventurism. “If I had to break this album into three parts, I’d label them art-pop, instrumentals and atheist hymns,” she says. “It’s taken me ten years on a scenic route to get back to a place of clarity, knowing exactly what I wanted to make and how I wanted it to sound. I’ve recorded and performed songs I wrote in an Americana/Country style to completely improvised instrumentals for this new album, but I’ve also jumped from genre to genre to cover ambient sound and dance pop, too.” The first single from the record, “Who Would’ve Thought,” documents the unexpected twists and turns of Kolac’s journey in her typically playful style.
Kolac’s “scenic route” also saw her collaborating with various producers and engineers who sculpted her sound, though it wasn’t until the making of From The Bottom Of The Well that she felt ownership for her work. “This album was made by me. I wrote all the songs over time, reflecting on the experiences that have shaped me over the past year or two,” she says. “I chose myself as engineer and producer, invested in a home studio set up and learned to make my own album. It has been the best fun, and most challenging experience to date.”
One of those life-altering experiences included the recent completion of a semester of Indigenous Studies at university, which ultimately inspired Kolac’s most recent single, “Grey.” It’s a cheeky analysis of the conflicting actions – seemingly harmless things like buying a latte on the way to a march for climate change – that can undermine our activist ideals if we’re not careful. But Kolac isn’t preachy, ultimately landing in the titular grey area where most of us live our day-to-day lives. She wrote it while sitting on her new three-seater couch, “an extravagance my boyfriend and I awarded ourselves for being grown-ups,” just as she says in the song’s opening lines. “Here I was on this luxury furniture item, reflecting on what it meant for me to be white in a country belonging to – and never ceded by – First Peoples, writing a protest song,” she says. “One of the lines I sing is ‘Can I call Australia my home if I was born here but on stolen lands?’”
Kolac may not have the answers, but at least she’s asking the right questions. She’s working toward a more balanced future, particularly in the music industry, by founding SPIRE, a collective of female instrumentalists available for hire on stages around Australia. And her work itself is a testament to the potential for evolution, blending as it does modern electronic production, like live looping, with her classical contemporary training. Part of that process was finally finding peace with being a pop artist.
“On my record there’s a track called ‘Fix It.’ Before that song I hadn’t even considered including a pop track in my repertoire,” she says. “My uni training had made me slightly ashamed of my love for pop music, but I recorded it anyway. I remember feeling so excited. The song made me wanna sing along and dance and it felt good. Now I lay down pop tracks all the time; arty, conventional, violin-laden pop tracks. I still love that track and I try to remember that when it comes to making songs, there’s nothing to fix.”
Teddi Gold was six years old when her biological father came out. Little changed within the very modern family dynamic, but folks in the community began to see him differently.
“All of a sudden, some parents would not let their kids come to my dad’s house,” Gold tells Audiofemme. Throughout her childhood, she observed blatant disrespect and discrimination. “My whole life, I have been aware of how they were treated differently. I’ve felt protective of their identity, and it scares me that this administration is actively trying to dismantle the progress we have made – progress that has taken lifetimes,” she says. “I fight for the underdog and for equality. It’s been a cornerstone of my life, family and identity.”
When it comes to her brand new single “Boom Boom,” premiering today, she celebrates the queer love of her two fathers, whose story taught her the meaning of true love, empathy, compassion, and family. “[The song] is an anthem for equality, an anthem for unity, a celebration of diversity.” All of the proceeds made from streaming will be donated to the ACLU in support of the LGTBQ+ community and #BlackLivesMatter.
Gold originally hails from Seattle, but when her parents divorced, they all moved to Saint John, the smallest of the three Virgin Islands, situated due East of Puerto Rico. “Me, my brothers, my mom, and my dad and his ex-boyfriend all moved into the same house,” she says. “It was a real ‘modern family.’ We were surrounded by a more accepting community, and there was this sense of freedom. Our community was made up of people from many walks of life.”
Life took a turn, and for the better. “Days were slower. I went to school with fifteen other kids, and on Wednesdays, we had science class in the ocean and learned about coral reefs. It was idyllic. I remember being outside constantly, connected to nature,” she remembers. “Creativity was encouraged and television wasn’t. I think I was able to develop my sense of self without the constant noise.”
Gold later returned to the states, settling down with her two fathers in West Hollywood, but it took some time to acclimate again. “I felt disconnected from mainstream culture because I didn’t grow up with it. There were things I missed out on completely or didn’t even know about. I felt out of place. I think that has definitely had an effect on the way I make music.”
In writing “Boom Boom,” a deliciously rhythmic slice of pop, she was instantly swept back into an ocean of memories. Carnival and Pride were the most potent images flooding her mind, allowing herself to really ground her headspace and honor her fathers. “When we were living on the island, I would dance in the Carnival every year. The festival was huge ─ a celebration of life with music, dancing, and steel drums. I also thought about the previous Prides I attended.”
The song’s tropical base sprouted quite naturally, as it often does in her music. “My dad’s first boyfriend, who I was close to, was a piano player on a cruise ship. Sometimes, we traveled on the ship with him to watch him play, so I got to visit many different islands and countries. I was lucky to be introduced to a variety of musical instruments and styles at a young age,” she remembers. “I love percussive instruments, and this song in particular has a variety of them. I never thought I would end up making music. In my head, I am still a kid climbing trees on St. John pretending to be a secret agent. I’ve discovered through music that my upbringing has had a huge impact on my creativity. So, I guess you can say that I am learning about myself, too.”
“Boom Boom” explodes from the inside out, a joyous and infectious soundtrack for a time in history when rights are being threatened, if not taken away completely. For now, Gold considers the lessons her fathers have taught her most about life: “Respect others. Treat others with love. Be kind. Be accepting of others. Have room in your heart for others,” she offers. “Speak up for people who can’t speak up. Be yourself, even if you are afraid of judgement.”
Follow Teddi Gold on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Am Taylor’s music is rich and contemplative, with intricate, dreamy guitar layers that mirror the lyrics’ multiple meanings. Formerly the lead singer of the Atlanta band Sexual Side Effects, Taylor recently took a hiatus to launch their solo project, and today, they’re releasing their second single, “Bright Yellow Sun.”
In the hypnotic track, Taylor blends elements of psychedelic rock and early Radiohead, with powerful guitar riffs and echoey, drawn-out vocals. The singer/songwriter/guitarist played with guitar pedal sounds to give the song a “dramatic, explosive vibe,” they explain.
The original inspiration for the song came from a partner of Taylor’s who expressed suicidal thoughts; they wrote it about what they were feeling in that moment. But then, the imagery took on a life of its own, and it became about runner-chaser relationship dynamics and anxious and avoidant attachment styles, with the metaphor of the sun chasing the moon.
“I think a lot of songs I’ve written are love songs, but — and I think all musicians do this — they come from a place of some kind of psychological shadow they’re working through or something deeper within their psyche,” they say.
Back in the days of live performances, Taylor would play the song amid a cloud of fog with lights behind them for a “weird psychedelic other-worldly vibe.” The video produces the same effect, with rainbow colors swirling around Taylor along with images of ancient Mexican temples. They used a projector to create the cosmic backgrounds, aiming to visually represent the feeling of a bright yellow sun and to express their interest in New Age beliefs and the supernatural.
Since the days of Sexual Side Effects’ rock and roll, Taylor has been doing more acoustic songs and incorporating psychedelia and dream-pop. The dream-pop influences in particular are audible on their first single as a solo artist, “Driving on the Edge of Night,” where you can also hear classic rock influences and a slow, meditative beat a bit reminiscent of The Velvet Underground.
On top of their music, Taylor recently took some time to work on illustrations that incorporate their interest in the occult, which they’ll eventually sell alongside more traditional band merch on their website. “After touring and playing a lot and dealing with bands breaking up and all that drama, I kind of became a hermit and started doing a lot of artwork, and it was a lot easier to sit around and do art and not have to try to get publicity or go on tour,” they reflect.
Though Taylor is working on a full-length album that they plan to put out at some point, they’re initially focusing on releasing singles on Spotify in order to gain attention as a solo artist before the album release. They’re also collaborating with Jayne County, the first openly trans singer in a punk-rock band and the inspiration for the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, on several songs. Together, they’re preparing to launch a debut single called “I Don’t Fit in Anywhere,” which County wrote about her experience with gender identity.
Taylor, however, doesn’t generally write about being trans; they prefer to just let their life speak and be an inspiration for others. “I feel like my purpose within gender identity is to just be who I am as a person and let everybody else kind of interpret it and figure it out for themselves,” they explain. “When you’re just a human being and you’re being who you are and connect on that level, I think people see that, and if they had preconceived notions about what you’d expect, they can be shifted. I think my purpose in life is to just be who I am and let the world know it’s OK to just be who you are.”
Los Angeles-based nondenominational megachurch Mosaic has a storied history in how it handles LGBTQ+ issues. Many queer individuals have professed an inviting and warm environment ─ but for singer-songwriter Sarah Hollins, and countless others, the experience was downright toxic. “[My friends and I] personally witnessed or experienced homophobia, lack of inclusivity, and ostracizing from members within the church and felt obligated to speak up about it,” the New Jersey native tells Audiofemme.
Last summer, Hollins participated in an episode of Refinery29’s “State of Grace,” a series which analyzes faith and identity. She was not publicly out at the time, but the decision to bare her heart on-camera is truly an act of bravery. “It was honestly really terrifying, and I didn’t know how my family was going to handle it. Even though it was so scary and stressful to come out in such a public way, I’m so glad that I did it,” she says. “It kickstarted a whole year of change for me, including my first relationship with a girl that I was able to lead in my public life.”
Like so many before her, Hollins held her secret tightly in her heart for a very long time. It was a long, winding journey she needed to take, and only now has finally discovered new-found peace. “So many people – even past therapists – over the years told me that I would feel so much better once I came out and that I would feel a huge weight lifted, but the fear of coming out kept me closeted for a long time,” she offers. “I have to say, they were definitely right.”
“Obviously, it’s not always safe for everyone to come out, and I definitely recognize the privileges I had of having a support system and relatively minor pushback from my family,” she continues, “but I would really recommend coming out. I’m such a happier person, and so many people who’ve known me my whole life have told me it’s the first time they’ve seen me truly happy and joyful.”
Her new song “Starlight,” premiering today, arrives with tremendous emotional baggage. “They all said it couldn’t ever feel like this / They all said it’s only hers and his,” she sings, her voice gliding through fuzzy electric guitar. “They all said I’m dead or better off that way / If my stupid head fell in love with her pretty face.”
The first stanzas examine her deep-rooted fears of harassment and abuse, and the melancholic chords evoke her psychological anguish. While concealing her own identity, Hollins “always stood up for queer people in smaller circles, like church youth groups, but was fearful to talk about my feelings because the conversations were so hostile,” she recalls.
She recalls one example from 2009, when renewed conversation around lesbianism, as Hollins knew it, had been reignited courtesy of Katy Perry’s hit debut single “I Kissed a Girl.” “I remember, my senior of high school, a lesbian at our school cut her hair and brought her girlfriend to prom, where she wore a suit,” Hollins remembers. “That brave girl was ridiculed by most of the school, and it really shamed me and scared me further into the closet. I was too scared to explore my sexuality until college.”
Still, “Starlight” expands well beyond the scope of Hollins’ own experiences. “They all punched us on the city bus / They’d rather hurt us than let us love / They all strung us to the metal fence / Told our families they’re better off / never seeing us again,” she warbles on the third verse, referencing the 2019 London bus attack against a lesbian couple and the 1998 brutal slaying of Matthew Shepard.
“Since the first part of the song talked about my experience coming out and the homophobia surrounding that, I wanted to use the last verse of the song to show what happens to queer people in society when they experience homophobia and when our society fosters environments that perpetuate it,” she explains. “I learned about Matthew when I was 14, thanks to a local production of The Laramie Project play, and I could never forget about what happened to him, how they attacked him, tied him to a fence, and left him to die. I wanted to use an incident from the ‘90s and an incident from the past few years to show how the queer community is still experiencing violence and hatred just for being themselves.”
Hollins wrote “Starlight” last September. At the time, she and her girlfriend had been planning holiday travel for Thanksgiving but soon discovered the family members hosting dinner were outright homophobic. “I didn’t want to subject my girlfriend and I to their hatred. The song sort of poured out of me and helped me work through my feelings about their homophobia – and some of the internalized homophobia and shame I had held in for years,” she says. “It helped me talk about how I was feeling at the time about my family, the church, and church communities I had left behind, and it helped me look back at how I’d always been closeted, even from a very young age.”
Musically, the four-minute song reframes classic ‘80s guitar tones (think The Cure and Springsteen), often made through a JC-22 amp, for a queer new context. “Those tones have been typically used for a lot of straight male stories, especially throughout the ‘80s. I think it’s fresh to use those tones to tell a queer story and prove that a song about queer people can be just as anthemic,” she says. “We have so many queer ‘bops’ and songs that are used to party at Pride, and while those songs are great and really help our community feel bright and joyful, I think it’s also useful to have cathartic songs that let us cry and talk about the hardships surrounding being queer.”
With guitarist and friend Taylor LeBowe, Hollins was able to flesh out her initial chord progression; layered harmonies and grander guitars were added much later. Mark McKee joined in to engineer the song to really underscore not only the emotional thread but the rich musical depth.
As heavy as it is (and needed to be), “Starlight” is also a celebration of hope, love, and freedom. “I fell in love with my girlfriend, and our love was worth coming out for,” Hollins says. “I wasn’t necessarily able to come out for me, but I could definitely come out for her. This song is actually the first song I’ve produced myself, and it’s the first song I’ve released that talks about my bisexuality.”
“The chorus really expresses the resilience of queer people and queer love – our deep desire and call to be ourselves is something we wish for so desperately that we will sacrifice everything for the chance to be our true selves. Our love is so pure, so beautiful, so magical, so life changing, that we will risk everything for it,” she says. “We’ll risk being disowned by family members, having to live a life alone, and with no familial support, homophobia and ostracizing from society, violence and hate. It’s all worth it because our love really is true and real and right.”
Since the release of 2018’s debut EP Heartbeat, Hollins has entered a creative renaissance these days, allowing herself to “write rock and guitar based songs that really inspire me and allow me to lean on my strengths as a songwriter,” she says. “I’m not putting myself into any sort of musical box, but I’m also learning which tools and paintbrushes really feel more like my signature or go-to sonic aesthetic.”
Another new, as-yet-unreleased song called “Catholic Guilt” leans more funky but still feels like a natural extension of her voice. “I’ve gotten a lot better at guitar over the past few years, and I’m really excited to utilize it as a foundation for these new songs I’m working on,” she says. “I think it’s really exciting to hear more and more music made by people using real instruments in a room together. Those organic elements feel so much more exciting and are way more interesting to hear people use at live shows than a sea full of artists singing to backing tracks.”
In addition to her musical pursuits, Hollins recently enrolled in graduate school to earn her Masters in Library and Information Science, a decision born out of today’s troubling state of racism, bigotry, and white supremacy. “I want to find and exhaust all ways that I can be helpful to my community and to marginalized communities. I’m hoping to be able to do that through my music and through professional activism in the library field,” she says. “I think that it’s a time for everyone to ask themselves what else they can be doing for society and how they can really contribute to positive reform and change. I love writing and creating music and will continue to release my original art, but I also want to contribute in other meaningful and impactful social ways. I’m really excited to be a librarian by day and an indie-rocker by night.”
Kat Meoz’s gritty, high-energy rock is as motivational as it is catchy. On “Royalty,” the title track off an EP released last year, she sings about refusing to settle for less than royal treatment. “Whatever I Want,” from the same EP, declares her unwillingness to follow others’ rules, and on “Are You Ready?” she announces to the world that she’s “on a mission” and won’t be stopped. Her latest single, “Back for More,” continues this same theme of confidence and boldness, asserting that she’ll respond to failure by trying again with even more resolve.
The Los Angeles-based, Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter, composer, and producer wrote the track about rejections she received from people in the music industry she’d been wanting to work with, which “was okay because I wasn’t going to give up on the idea of working with them,” she says. “So, I thought, I’ll be back to offer them more music they can’t say no to, soon.”
The sound of the single mirrors the meaning, with Meoz powerfully belting, “Bet your life/I’m coming back for more” in the chorus and repeating the lyrics “It’s the bait and switch/Makin’ poor men rich” in an infectious, almost conversationally sung pre-chorus. “Back for More” is more bluesy than some of Meoz’s past work, but it intentionally matches the exuberant spirit of her entire catalog, while highlighting her tenacity.
The sentiment of the song also mirrors the process of making it. Meoz first wrote “Back for More” two years ago and began working with her producers Jake Bowman and Teddy Roxpin on it, then decided to rehash it with a different tune almost a year later. “It’s not every day you can have a finished song and then reach out to people several months later to say, ‘Hey, remember that finished song we have? Can we completely redo it and just keep the lyrics?'” she says. “I think their excitement and hard work matched mine perfectly, and the combination of our efforts and good vibes is bringing this song into the world.”
Meoz’s professional accomplishments support the assertion at the heart of “Back for More” – that she can accomplish whatever she wants in her career. She regularly writes songs for ads, TV, and film, which she describes as “a sensory overload that gifts me a feeling of accomplishment like nothing else.” Her favorite role of this kind was as executive music producer for The Dust Storm, a movie about musicians in Nashville for which she got to wear multiple hats, including coaching actors for live performances. “It’s full circle hearing a song that came from the ethers of my mind in someone else’s creation,” she says.
Her impressive list of credentials also includes singing backup vocals on Iggy Azalea and Quavo’s 2018 single “Savior,” which she remembers as “somewhat intimidating,” since she was meeting Azalea for the first time. “One of the first things you learn in recording school is to read a room and have studio etiquette,” she says. “So, when Iggy arrived, the atmosphere became more serious because essentially the boss had arrived.”
A lesser-known highlight of her career was performing “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band in several locations through LA in a video for Hear the Music: West Hollywood, a campaign to promote LA tourism. “It was just the coolest experience to get to represent West Hollywood and have it be so connected to music,” she says. “It plays overseas and I get messages from people in the Middle East frequently saying they love my cover of ‘Boogie Shoes,'” she says.
Meoz is currently working on an EP that continues the guitar-centered “swagger rock” vibe of her past work, with hints of Alanis Morissette, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, and Bishop Briggs. On top of that, she plans to release a soul EP later this year under an alias. It’s unclear what’s next after that, but what’s certain is that she’ll be back for more.
Recently, Grace Cooper officially became a children’s book author – by accident. For the physical release of her fifth solo album (and first recorded in a studio) as Grace Sings Sludge, Cooper illustrated a 32-page booklet, which, she explains, wasn’t deemed long enough to be registered with the Library of Congress unless classified as a children’s book. It is, perhaps, one of the most cryptically-titled children’s tomes in history: Christ Mocked & The End of a Relationship. Its illustrations are both grotesque and delicate: drippy demons and sinister saints; nude figures twisted in ecstasy, or misery, or both – it’s hard to tell which. Cooper’s lyrics are printed out, too, and they’re also a mishmash of the tender, the surreal, the horrific, and the humorous. “I’m either horror or comedy,” Cooper says. “I’m kind of a goofy person, but when I’m making anything, there’s no question it’s going to be creepy.”
Cooper grew up just outside Oakland in the East Bay Area. Her father is a guitarist, singer, and songwriter, but she says she was “too shy” to perform around the house and didn’t start making music until her twenties, after getting a job at Amoeba Records. There, she met Tim Cohen, who asked her to sing backup in the early days of The Fresh & Onlys, which got her used to performing in front of others; Cohen introduced her to Heidi Alexander, and eventually, the two formed whimsical garage-pop band The Sandwitches with Roxanne Young, playing their first gig in a bookstore. But all the while, Cooper recorded solo songs in secret. “After the Sandwitches, I just kind of went back to what’s a little more natural for me – recording at home by myself,” she says. That changed when The Sandwitches’ label, San Francisco imprint Empty Cellar Records, offered to put out her next record, and suggested she record it with Phil Manley at El Studio. Manley is well-known in the Bay Area for playing in bands like Trans Am, Feral Ohms, and The Fucking Champs, and Cooper says, “Something just felt right when his name was brought up.”
Though she’s more comfortable recording at home, she took studio prep seriously. “When I record myself, [the songs are] just skeletal sketches, they’re kind of a template and I find it as I go,” she says. “But this time I tried to map out some idea of what instruments I heard in my head, and I had the songs arranged in the order that I thought they should be in. We recorded them from start to finish in that order. We recorded pretty quickly, but somehow the record ended up being something that, in the time that’s gone by since recording it, I’m still completely happy with and I don’t have any regrets.”
Cooper has reason to be proud – she played every instrument on Christ Mocked, save for drums handled by Nic Russo, who also played piano on “Horror For People That Don’t Like Horror,” a nonchalant tale about the devastating embarrassment that comes along with first forays into physical intimacy. Though Cooper says she’s in her “comfort zone with buzzy, shitty sounding stuff,” this album brings out the peculiar beauty of her voice in ways previous DIY affairs didn’t quite capture; threaded with sparse guitar, meandering basslines, or dissonant piano, Christ Mocked is a bit reminiscent of early Cat Power, if Chan Marshall had somehow been more awkward (and obsessed with horror movies, religious iconography, and sketches of nude women). It’s set for release July 17th.
Whatever the professional process brought out in the music, it did nothing to temper Cooper’s weirdo aesthetic. Two of her favorite tracks are spoken-word recollections of vivid dreams she had, describing the travails of an undercover woman and and undercover man who are slowly disappearing (“Borderlands”) and “a condemned Disneyland/a perverted Swiss Family dream” (“The Hackers”). The latter ends with the veiled origins of Cooper’s early appreciation for horror films – she says she remembers watching Texas Chain Saw Massacre with her dad, also a horror buff, when she was just six.
That obsession surfaces again in the video for the album’s second single, “Friend To All,” Cooper’s “hokey noir take on disillusionment and disassociation.” She enlisted old friend Wesley Smith to direct and Jeff Williams to assist; though she hadn’t seen them in nearly fifteen years, it was a natural extension of their old delinquent ways, making gross, darkly funny short films as “Bad Habit Productions.”
“We were all very gothed out,” Cooper remembers. “We would skip school and go steal alcohol from Safeway and hang out on Monument Boulevard in Concord but we would always be doing something creative together. We might have been doing drugs and loitering but at least we were making really bizarre little movies.”
For “Friend To All,” the trio filmed in an garishly orange Motel 6 room and an abandoned incinerator building in Sacramento; Cooper looks put together with pin-up curls, red lipstick and vintage monochromatic suit sets, but in the ominous details, things begin to unravel. She smokes a cigarette, sprawled on a hideous bedspread, barely acknowledging the body wrapped in a sheet in the corner. And then suddenly, she’s naked in a bathtub smearing what looks like shit all over her face, dancing and weaving drunkenly in the street, and wearing a rather nightmarish mask as she tiptoes over trash in stilettos.
“Yeah, I don’t know what inspired that,” Cooper says of the mask. “I needed a last minute Halloween costume one year, and I just cut my pantyhose up and kept it in my underwear drawer. I still have it.” It made for a fitting prop – the song itself is about the disguises we put up in interacting with others, a riff on the old saying “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
If the mask represents someone pretending to be something they aren’t, the derelict buildings where the video was filmed are an astute parallel to the deterioration of those false relationships, crumbling into forgotten ruins. But the layers of symbolism may as well have been incidental – Cooper says she routinely puts on YouTube videos of urban explorers searching through abandoned structures to watch as she falls asleep. “I was very charmed by Sacramento and I really hope it keeps that old school sort of dilapidated feeling,” Cooper recalls. “I was happy as a clam being in this place, just trying to not step on needles and diapers, and there was nobody around. It was right next to apartment buildings too, that’s why there was so much garbage spillover. But it didn’t seem like anybody was really squatting there. The light was beautiful.”
Cooper usually works on her own videos, mostly alone in her apartment, like she did with the video for “Falling in love with him again was the most exciting time of my life,” because “It’s very low budget and I have complete creative control,” she says. Still, she manages to evoke something heartfelt and haunting, always remaining within her own eccentric aesthetic.
“I’m an odd duck – it’s just a culmination of who I am, how I grew up,” Cooper says. While she admits that forging her own path can be isolating at times – especially when it comes to booking shows in Oakland – she’s fine with defying comparisons. “I can’t do anything else,” she says. “I’m gonna keep keeping to myself because I’m happier doing it that way. But I want to be there for the weird outsider ladies.”
Who knows… maybe her odd children’s book will find its way to the right type of kids – ones that film darkly funny movies in abandoned spaces, write strange little songs, and go all-in on their most outlandish tendencies.
Follow Grace Sings Sludge on Instagram for ongoing updates.
NYC-based singer, songwriter, and pianist Siv Disa’s musical style is unmistakable; minor chords and dissonant sounds give her songs a haunting feel, while her warm, soft voice invites the listener into even the darkest of stories. Her latest single, “Fear,” released by Irish singer-songwriter Maija Sofia’s record label Trapped Animal Records, is an embodiment of this distinct sound she’s mastered.
Disa’s delicate vocals, conversational lyrical style, and synths in the song are reminiscent of indie pop bands like The Blow, while the instrumentals and subject matter conjure up gloomier acts like Orion Rigel Dommisse. The video follows the latter thread, showing Disa wandering through an abandoned road, a dark wooden house, and a winter forest as she sings, “I’m a little bit in love with everyone I’ve ever touched/Come a little bit undone then disconnect before it comes to much.”
It seems fitting that the song was conceived while Disa was walking between New York City subway platforms. “I’d just left someone’s place who I was seeing at the time,” she remembers. “It was so blisteringly meaningless. I remember floating out of my body and watching both of us so politely pretending that we cared more about one another than we did because that’s just what everyone does. Seeing someone else carry out the same delusion broke the spell of my own. I worried that even if I could give someone the room to actually matter to me, it wouldn’t grant me the ability to feel connected to another human being.”
Disa describes the end of the chorus — “I don’t really like to think about that too much/There are an awful lot of doors that I keep shut” — as an expression of her “life philosophy” at the time the song was written. “Staying in motion has always been the method of self-preservation I revert to, but it makes you a bit divorced from reality,” she says. “It tricks you into thinking you’re the puppet master of not just your own life, but your entire world.”
Disa says she was more involved in the production of this song than her earlier projects. She and her producer Sam Palmer made their own vocoder, and the spoken lines in the beginning are a crossfade of Palmer’s voice into her own. “From the first second of the song, we wanted to create a sound world that felt familiar, but somehow off,” she says.
She’s directed many of her own videos, including this one, which was recorded at a country farmhouse on an old Kodak Easyshare camera. “Since the budget of this video was about zero dollars, I wanted the DIY aesthetic to feel intentional,” she explains. “Working with that constraint was a fun challenge. I think art that is low-budget is always more effective when it stays self-aware of that.”
She crafted the storyline with the aesthetic of ’70s B-movies and homemade horror in mind, aiming to give off the appearance of “a video that someone might find on a camcorder in their attic, something that enhanced the feeling of the song being both familiar and unsettling,” she explains. “I wanted the viewer to be able to step into the role of monster, victim, and voyeuristic witness as they transitioned from scene to scene.”
Disa is currently halfway through recording a full-length album, making do with the limits on her activity by recording at home on a Tascam 8 track, and is working on videos for some of the album’s songs.
Lately, she’s been learning to take the same experimental approach to songwriting and production as she has to video-making. “Women and nonbinary people are much more likely to wait to release something until they’re as prepared as they can be, whereas men learn as they go and share the products of that process with the outside world proudly,” she says. “I’m always finding new ways to get out of my own way, because I live in a world that asks women to get in their own way.”
About three years ago, Adrienne Clark and Anthony Darnell, bandmates in Seattle new wave dance pop group Killer Workout, replied to an ad from a man who had bought out the stock of a closed-down video store. Interest piqued, they rolled up to find a garage full of thousands of their favorite horror and sci-fi VHS tapes.
“The guy told us we had to take everything, but I didn’t realize how many VHS he actually had. He had a giant garage—well over two thousand VHS tapes—but we were in a 1998 Corolla, so he gave us 30 minutes to go through and grab as many as we could,” remembers Darnell.
This was the beginning of Clark and Darnell’s collection of campy horror, sci-fi, and action VHS, a passion and aesthetic which has spilled over into their music as Killer Workout—from the band’s namesake to their forthcoming 3-song EP, Four : Three, which references the 4:3 aspect ratio common in ‘80s and ‘90s VHS tapes and television. “The name Four : Three doesn’t tell you too much, but it gives you a clue of who we are. Like, we’re sitting in a room right now with a hundred VHS tapes of horror movies. We’re kind of obsessed,” says Clark, laughing. “We’re big cinephiles and whenever we’re collaborating, we reference films and visual art that could inspire the work.”
This inspiration is clear in video for the song “Figure it Out,” premiering today. It’s one of three music videos the band commissioned from @video_macabro, a popular Instagram personality who cuts up and collages obscure VHS movies and posts it with interesting music. “He’ll take some weird Japanese robot movie that you’ve never heard of and put dark dance music to it,” said Darnell. “It just really resonated with me, so we asked him to do all three videos.”
For “Figure it Out,” the director spliced together scenes from 1979 film The Driller Killer, a slasher flick about an artist who’s driven into insanity and begins killing people with a power drill. The effect is undeniably perfect for the song – the unison eighth-note bass and drum patterns have ’80s vibes, but with a twist unique to the band, which includes guitarist Reed Griffin, bassist/vocalist Jon Swihart, and drummer Bob Husak (who also collects and sells vintage vinyl, books and tapes).
“With some of the newer stuff we’ve been trying to play with structure,” said Darnell. “I thought, we’re stuck in a rut of emulating this [post-punk] sound, why don’t we try and play with some of these elements—make it darker than it typically would be, more haunting.” The EP arrives June 26 – they’ve already released its first single, “Too Late.”
On “Figure it Out,” Clark’s otherworldly keyboard line connects the straight-ahead post-punk vocals to some far-out dimension, while the heavy, reverb-y guitar conjures up a horror movie score – as they say, “Tangerine Dream-style.” Lyrically, this song began as a way to process Donald Trump’s election. Over time, Darnell says its morphed into more of a reflection on the balance between fitting in and standing out, which, against the backdrop of a misfit impaling someone with his drill, adds a layer of deliciously dark humor, a la Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.”
“It’s a song about realizing everyone is a big nerd like you are, so what does it matter [if you fit in or not]?” said Darnell. “I mean, I’m into weird horror movies and sci-fi stuff that a lot of people think is weird or too obscure. But everyone has these fears and anxieties. So ‘Figure it Out’ has a hopeful message against a dark backdrop.”
Follow Killer Workout on Facebook for ongoing updates.
If your life feels like an endless struggle right now, folk singer-songwriter Natalie Schlabs has a message of hope for you. Her latest single, “See What I See,” reassures people in various difficult situations that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, even if they can’t see it at the moment.
“Are you lost in the dark?/Look again, you might see a shooting star/Honey, you are the sky/you hold the sun /you hold the shadow-side,” Schlabs’ sweet, clear voice sings in a verse aimed at someone with depression. Another verse of the song speaks to someone dealing with a chronic illness.
“I think we can all offer our eyes to someone when they’re having a hard time, imagining they will be OK again,” says Schlabs.
The song is on her sophomore album, Don’t Look Too Close, which comes out in October. Written during Schlabs’ pregnancy with her first child, the album addresses family relationships, friendship, romantic love, vulnerability, and death, as well as “the hope that can still be girded underneath despair” and “the pain of letting someone go and allowing them to make their own decisions, even when you feel it is harming them,” as she puts it. “Basically, a lot of life lessons that come up when you enter your 30s.”
Parenting is a central theme throughout the album: “Ophelia” was written for a friend who lost her daughter, “Endless Love” is a love song to Schlabs’ own son, and “Don’t Look Too Close” is about not wanting your children to see your dark or dysfunctional side.
“Being pregnant, I naturally did a lot more reflection, as well as thinking of the future and what I wanted to pass down. I think that probably led to more honest songwriting,” she says. “I’m exploring the tension of being the best you can for your kid or loved one and knowing you’re a flawed human who is going to fuck up. You realize it was the same with your own parents and loved ones. There is a parallel line there that is interesting to me.”
The album features slow, gentle melodies, layered vocals and guitars, and indie and pop sensibilities combined with Schlabs’ usual Americana style; she says that bands like Big Thief and The War on Drugs influenced the sound. The instrumentals include Caleb Hickman on saxophone and Joshua Rogers, Schlabs’ husband, on bass.
“This time, I was able to see the studio as an instrument to experiment with,” she adds. “I wasn’t afraid to try things like running my vocal mic through a guitar amp.”
The Nashville-based artist’s other passion is cooking; she used to have her own catering business and wrote songs between food prep. Nowadays, her Patreon is dedicated to music, recipes, and even music-recipe pairings.
Schlabs is currently working on creating a home studio as she writes more songs. In the meantime, her music serves as a reminder for those of us stuck at home to believe in better days ahead, and to cherish the people we’re stuck with.
Follow Natalie Schlabs on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Lenii likes to drink tea (Barry’s Tea to be exact). While in quarantine with two friends, musicians Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Baby Bill, the trio easily down 12 or 13 cups of a day ─ apiece. Having grown up in Cork, Ireland, Lenii was accustomed to the culture ─ one which bred an environment of gabbing over tea with friends and loved ones. There’s something soothing about hearing someone say, “I’ll put the kettle on.” Whatever you might be feeling that day, it all washes down with some piping hot tea and good conversation.
“In Ireland, people drink like eight cups of tea a day,” Lenii tells Audiofemme. “If you visit someone’s house, the tea is offered before you even get through the door. I even have a tea cup tattooed on my arm because it reminds me so much of home.”
So, it only seemed natural to launch a “Tea Sessions” series during these very uncertain times. Born Ellen Murphy, Lenii launches this creative endeavor with a stripped-down version of her song “Cereal,” shedding away the gummy layers for a guitar and keyboard-driven performance. “I got lucky enough to be locked down in a house in LA with two amazing musicians, also from Ireland,” she says.
“We were just jamming one day playing each other’s songs and drinking tea, so I just thought it would be cool to film us,” says Lenii, whose voice is given a proper showcase. “The first episode was really spontaneous, and I loved the idea of a low-pressure quarantine ‘tiny desk’ type series.”
The original iteration of “Cereal” (co-written with and produced by Nick Sadler) unleashes a more biting attack, while the live performance video allows Lenii to feel looser within its structure. “The ‘Tea Sessions’ version of [this song] was really just myself and the boys having fun so the song took on a whole different mood. A little less aggressive and a bit more jazzy. Playing it outside was cool, too.”
Vibrant greenery frames the video, somehow drawing you into her world, if only for a moment. In many ways, this “Cereal” performance taps into the lack of human connection these days. Lenii admits the last few months have “definitely [been] emotional,” she says, “as I’m sure is the same for everyone. I miss playing live and going to sessions, but I’ve been quarantined with two writers so we’re still getting a lot done. There’s a lot of pressure to use this time to be productive so just remembering that it’s okay to not feel creative all the time is super important.”
Of course, worry often tends to seep into her mind. “It’s very strange being so far from my family at a time like this, so I think about that a lot. But [I’m] trying to go with the flow and not worry too much,” she says. “In the music world, I know playing live won’t be the same for a long time, and I think there will be a major shift in how the industry works.”
Earlier this month, Lenni’s 2019 song “Yellow” was named Adult Contemporary winner of the International Songwriting Competition, a distinction that certainly threw her for a loop. “I honestly didn’t even know ‘Yellow’ fell into ‘adult contemporary,’ so I was shocked,” she admits. “I came second in that category in 2017, so I was like, maybe A/C is my calling.”
She adds, “I would continue, regardless, and aim to get better all the time, but it’s a really cool bit of validation that I’m heading in the right direction.”
Lenii continues riding high on a string of singles, including “Regular 10,” the newly released “I (Don’t) Miss You” and “Crave U,” which was recently remixed by Cyril M. Though social distancing may have temporarily altered her trajectory, the “Tea Sessions” offer a fun, intimate portrait of an artist on the rise, doing her part to keep calm and put a kettle on for all of us.
When a friend of Ariel McCleary’s took up the ukulele, she was inspired to learn the instrument too, just for fun. To document her progress, she uploaded videos of herself covering various popular songs to YouTube, and soon, what began as a hobby had garnered a surprising amount of traction. In November 2015, she shared a cover of Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride,” which quickly reached a million views and now has over three million.
McCleary’s appeal comes not just from her music but also from her personality. One distinctive feature of her videos is their personable, often silly introductions; she prefaces her “Ride” cover with, “I’m gonna strum this thing, and then my mouth is gonna rap some stuff. Not like Christmas wrapping, but like Eminem rapping. Yeah, I’m just trying to find a clever way to say I’m doing a cover of a song.”
Her 2018 rendition of Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” which now has nearly nine million views, was a request from the students she taught English to in Ourense, Spain. She moved to Madrid soon after and still lives there, but music has become her full-time job. “Covering other people’s songs taught me a lot about song structures and how chord progressions work, and along the way, I wanted to write my own music,” she says.
Last year, she released her first single, “One-Way Signs,” which describes the thrill and chaos of traveling and living abroad. One-Way Signs is also the title of her first EP, which came out in January and incorporates influences ranging from pop to British rock to bossa nova.
McCleary’s first official music video, released today, is a lyric video for “Sheep,” a track from her EP criticizing social media culture. The idea for the song came to her when she was scrolling through Instagram and saw a people posting the same photos about their monotonous lives repeatedly.
“A lot of people are too caught in their comfort zones, and they post the same things and kind of follow each other and don’t really step out of their comfort zones,” she says. “And I thought, ‘I could never live like that,’ and I wanted to continue challenging myself. And everyone’s a follower — I’m of course a follower too in some cases — but I try to not get stuck and try to travel and have an adventurous lifestyle.”
The video is simple but humorous, with the lyrics overlaying footage of actual sheep.
While a lot of McCleary’s success comes from social media, she tries to use it “as a connector instead of a way to preach or a way to show off,” she explains. One way she does this is through her “You, Me, & Tea” videos, where she shares updates from her life.
“Since 2011, I’ve been uploading videos, and as I’ve gotten comfortable talking in front of a camera and to an audience for the past nine years, it’s helped me develop a confidence in knowing that I don’t need to put on an alternate personality and a mask,” she says. “My ‘You, Me, & Tea’ series was formed around that idea of wanting to make a personal connection with my audience members, with each of them. And so, to have me talk about deep topics — about anxiety, about therapy, about how I write music — to talk about it in an honest way, an open way, a cup of tea in my room feels very casual and personal.”
McCleary is about to move back home to Ohio and work on building a music career within the U.S., which will include recording a full-length album and filming a music video. “Now that I’ve grown in Europe, I want to bring it back to America,” she says. Luckily, her online presence will let fans all over the world keep up with her music and her life.
Follow Ariel McCleary on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Gateway Drugs describe themselves as “drug pop,” which guitarist Liv Niles defines as “a sweet pop formula tethered to a deranged and disordered structure.” The band just put out their first album in five years, PSA, and while their earlier work highlighted dark ’80s influences like The Jesus and Mary Chain, their latest gives off beachy classic rock vibes with a modern garage-rock-meets-shoegaze twist.
Niles started the LA-based band in 2012 with her brothers, Gabe and Noa, along with their good friend, bassist/guitarist James Sanderson. “We’d played in other bands both together and apart but always knew we wanted to have a project of our own,” she says. “Our thought process is very similar — when we play music, we’re on the same page, which is difficult for a lot of bands. Creative trust is hard to find.”
They’ve been a musical family from the beginning; their father is Prescott Niles, bassist for The Knack. “There were always instruments laying around and records playing,” Niles remembers. “Our mom is a writer, so to have a musical and lyrical influence, we’re very lucky.”
The new album, produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner, was recorded live in twelve days to create a “raw, sincere, chaotic, and primal” feel, says Niles. The title, PSA, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the band’s name, which was inspired by a Breaking Bad episode where one of the characters refers to weed as a gateway drug. “They mentioned ‘gateway drug,’ and we looked at each other and said, Gateway Drug?! No, Gateway Drugs!” Niles remembers.
The title also serves to designate the album as a public service announcement about various issues the world is facing. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” for instance, is about “homogenized rebellion” and the commodification of progressive ideas, explains Niles, who broke from her usual role to sing on another track, “I’m Always Around.” There’s no one designated vocalist in the band; the singer on any given song is usually “the one who hunts down and catches the initial idea,” she says.
So far, the band has created videos for three songs off the album, all of them based around simple concepts. The “Wait (Medication)” video displays various shots of the band performing the song, which is a reflection on excess, madness, addiction, and how “extreme highs give way to extreme lows,” according to Niles. “I’m Always Around” simply features the lyrics written with marker on a piece of paper, while “Slumber” — a song about end of a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner — shows the band dancing as they wander the streets and is intended as a glimpse into the members’ daily lives.
“Videos can be pretentious, with the interest of the song not at heart,” says Niles. “We wanted to make a sincere attempt of visually accompanying the music, hopefully leaving a bit more for the listeners’ imagination.”
In the wake of the album release, the band is currently focused on writing new music, putting out more videos, and live-streaming shows and band hangouts. Even without the ability to share their new music for live audiences, the authenticity of the album’s production and videos provides the next best thing.
Follow Gateway Drugs on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Hope Waidley sings about being 20 years old, but her voice and music have a classic and timeless feel. “It Rains in Michigan,” her latest single and ode to her home state, takes listeners of all ages back to the experience of first love with lyrics that are simple yet sophisticated, unique yet familiar. “It’s no longer a thought laid on the floor,” she sings. “I’m in love, you pick it up and say, I’ve never felt like this before.”
The song is from her debut EP, Wonder, which comes out May 8 and also includes the spiritual, Janis Joplin-esque single “Born Again.” It follows 2017 EP Hope, but has a more organic, approachable sound than its poppier predecessor. That could be because Waidley spent the past year street performing and surfing as she traveled the country in an old Ford station wagon. The minimalistic videos she’s released so far certainly reflect her free-spiritedness.
We talked to her about what inspires her music and the themes she explores on her EP.
AF: I know you’re self-taught. How did you first teach yourself to sing, play guitar, and write songs?
HW: I started writing songs when I was six years old – it was always a way for me to process, a way for me to express my emotions. I was swinging on our swing-set in the back yard when I wrote my first song, and it was something that just happened. I didn’t try to write anything or say, “OK, I’m going to make a song today.” It was something my brain just started to do, I guess. To this day, it’s still like that. I get an urge to go write and I have to. And then, somehow, a song is written, and then I go back to whatever I was doing. To me, it’s always felt like a gift from God because these songs are such a release for me and help me when I write them.
I taught myself guitar when I was 10 years old and, for years, just played the seven chords I learned. I play a little more variety now, but I don’t know any theory or what the strings are called. I just play the strings that sound good together — I’d like to get better!
When I was 17, I realized if God could use these songs to help me so much, they can be used to help other people. That’s always been my dream: to help people in whatever ways they need help. I started to record and release music at 18.
AF: What inspired your single “It Rains in Michigan”?
HW: I fell in real love for the first time, and that’s what inspired the song. “It Rains In Michigan” is about the beginning of all of that and how I was processing it. I felt unprepared and had no idea what to think, but it was beautiful. I didn’t know much, but I knew my feelings were true. I was also someone that wanted to avoid falling in love for as long as I could because I think I assumed it would complicate my life, but in this situation, it was completely unavoidable. I’m so grateful we gave it a chance. It’s absolutely amazing. I love love.
AF: What was the idea behind the video?
HW: I wanted to show how I became more comfortable with falling in love as the song went on. In the beginning, I wasn’t dancing in the rain, I didn’t take my shoes off, I kept my drenched coat on. Then, as the song went on, I took my shoes off and my coat, and I am dancing in the rain, comfortable, free, accepting, and happy. When something is so new to us, it takes us a little bit of time usually to become comfortable with what’s going on.
AF: Your music videos are all really artfully done — how do you come up with them? Do you have any in the works?
HW: It’s different all the time. An idea will usually pop up in my head, and we kind of just roll with it. Lately, my sister and I or a friend and I have been filming the videos. A lot of it is using the resources we have. We filmed “Wonder” with a flip phone. I love the imperfections, and I love when they don’t look perfect. If they tell the story and are genuine and who I am, we go with it! The next one I’m going to start working on is for a song called “The Boy That Ran Away.”
AF: What else do you sing about on your new EP?
HW: There’s four other songs on the EP besides “It Rains In Michigan.” There’s a song called “Fade” that’s about the position you are in when someone close to you is going down a bad path, and you’re neither what destroys them nor what will save them. “The Boy That Ran Away” is about three different people I met while traveling around the country to street-perform while living in a station wagon with my sister. The song “Wonder” is about imagining how the story would go if I told this person how I felt. Then, “Born Again” is about how sometimes, when we gain new perspective, it’s almost like being born again.
AF: I appreciated the spiritual depth of the song “Born Again.” How does spirituality influence your music?
HW: It influences all of it. The Lord is the reason for why I can even write. It’s a gift from God used to help me, to help others, and I can’t take any credit for it. It’s the Lord’s peace that I feel from these songs, his freedom that I feel when I write, and his power I feel when I perform. It’s such a blessing.
AF: Musically, how would you say this EP is different from your past work?
HW: The production of this EP really states my sound and the direction my music is going. In past work, I always was content just getting my words out there but didn’t necessarily have a “sound” specific to my style and my music. This EP was recorded with live musicians, live instruments, and it’s exactly what I’d hope for my music to sound like instrumentally. Tim Bullock and Rex Rideout made it happen!
AF: Which artists have inspired you?
HW: I love anyone that had anything to say that was interesting or in a new perspective… or had a song that was beautifully written. I’ve always loved Johnny Cash, Jim Croce, Mazzy Star, Kris Kristofferson, The Lumineers, The Band, Chris Cornell, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So many incredible musicians out there.
Follow Hope Waidley on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Sophia St. Helen’s musical career didn’t begin like your typical singer-songwriter. After studying vocal performance at The American College of Greece, she stayed in the country and worked as the house singer at a hotel, performing the occasional gig in Athens. While on the island of Hydra in 2014, she met producer Robby Baier, and they recorded the song “Lazy Summer” — the first she recorded for her debut album, None The Wiser, which came out May 1.
St. Helen got back in touch with Baier while she was in the U.S., and they ended up recording the rest of the album last year in the Berkshires. With a voice reminiscent of Nora Jones, St. Helen’s sound is mellow and whimsical. Songs like “The Bay” use natural imagery to evoke a relaxed, blissful mood. Others, like “Comfort in Crying” and “What the Heart Wants,” deal more explicitly with love and heartbreak — but St. Helen says the deeper theme of the album is “wisdom and naivety.”
“To be none the wiser is to not learn from one’s mistakes, or to not be aware of what has happened,” she says. “In a way, I’m poking fun at myself for remaining naive, even after analyzing and putting into music many situations I have faced in my life.”
St. Helen has released music videos for two songs on the album, including “What the Heart Wants,” which features herself and others dancing at a rainbow-and glitter-filled party full of crowns and animal masks.
“The concept behind this music video was let your freak flag fly,” she says. “I wanted to zone into the lyrics of the chorus – the heart wants what the heart wants – and let that be the message taken away from the video. I didn’t want it to be too literal. I just thought about creating the scene of a party that I wish I was at… sparkles and weirdos, free of judgment and full of energy. I wanted to blur the lines of fantasy and reality. I think one of the cool things about music videos is they don’t necessarily need to make sense.”
The other video is for “Like a Fog,” a haunting meditation on solitude, which sees St. Helen traipsing through woodsy scenes, befriending only wildlife. “It was -17 degrees outside that day,” she remembers. “I could barely stop shaking enough to film. But when I was holding and nuzzling the owl, it had my absolute focus, and nothing else mattered. It was just so majestic! It was funny, actually — we had to try and avoid making it look like a love affair between the two of us, because I was visibly infatuated.”
The owl has been a symbol for St. Helen since she was a child. “Owls symbolize wisdom, and my name, Sophia, means ‘wisdom’ in Greek,” she explains. “Again, here I am playing with the theme of wisdom. The song ‘Like a Fog’ is about trying to learn how to be alone. Facing a moment of self-discovery, and looking at wisdom…or quests for wisdom, right in the face.”
St. Helen has been writing new music and plans to start touring throughout the U.S. whenever it’s possible again. In the meantime, you can access None the Wiser on your streaming service of choice and follow her on Instagram.
As the lead singer of High Waisted, Jessica Louise Dye creates sonic psychedelic lullabies while also acting as the vision and force behind some of most innovative punk rock dance parties in New York City. An authentic space cowgirl flown down from Planet Awesome with the sole mission to save Rock ‘n’ Roll, Dye is the mastermind behind unforgettable experiences like her annual Rock n’ Roll Booze Cruise: free booze, shaky waters, and synergy only the unicorn herself could have cultivated and conjured. With strong pop sensibility and feminist ideals, High Waisted are more than a surf rock band. They’ll release their much-anticipated sophomore album, Sick of Saying Sorry, on May 22.
Of the singles from the project so far, “Boys Can’t Dance” makes use of the band’s unbridled party spirit, while “Drive” captures the surrealist emotional undertone of Planet Earth from its opening lines: “We’re looking outward/Trying to decipher the code/The past repeats/Echoes of what once was and will be/We’re both guilty of editing what could harm the world.” The project will also include “8th Amendment,” recorded in 2018 for WNYC’s 27: The Most Perfect Album release, in which artists such as Dolly Parton, Adia Victoria, Devendra Banhart, Palehound, Torres, and more each contributed songs based on a different constitutional amendment. High Waisted tackled one designed to protect incarcerated individuals from excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment.
They just released an epic psychedelic video for their most recent single, “Modern Love,” directed by Jenni Yang & Logan Seaman. The directors met while working on Beyonce’s Made In America concert and created the High Waisted video in the midst of getting married. Yang, inspired by the quote “To love is to destroy and to be loved is to be destroyed,” created a visual story about love and power. “Jess would be the heroine in the story, not only because she looks badass on the stage, but because she represents many modern women. As her character lives a happy and love-filled life, she encounters situations where she needs to step out of her comfort zone in order to protect her love. It’s a metaphor for modern love. You can’t just live happily ever after like in the movies. There are moments in which we struggle. It’s a journey of learning to be yourself, and most importantly to be brave.”
I gave Dye a ring to discuss her anticipated sophomore album, Sick of Saying Sorry. Let’s just say her infectious charisma and charm had me playing the High Waisted musical repertoire on rotation for a week – and inspired me to practice guitar until my fingers bled.
AF: The dynamic single “Drive” that illustrates the breadth of your sound. Can you talk about your influences behind the track?
JLD: The idea came from waking up just before dawn in the passenger seat of the van on tour. Everyone silent, traveling over endless pavement as the sun slowly sets the horizon on fire. Chasing something we’ll never catch.
AF: The song echoes themes of agency, rebirth, and cyclical patterns. Was that inspired by a personal experience in a relationship – or a universal state of being?
JLD: It’s actually about the forbidden love story of the sun and the moon, obliged to never meet in order to keep the world alive.
AF: How would you describe your songwriting process?
JLD: I like to set little secret intentions within my lyrics, hoping those wishes will come true. Sometimes these premonitions become accidental realities.
AF: Can you discuss teaming up with Tad Kubler (The Hold Steady) and Arun Bali (Saves the Day), in the making of Sick of Saying Sorry?
JLD: Tad was a remarkable producer. I’ve never had anyone believe in me as a songwriter like he did. He had such empathy for the writing process. To be the recipient of that level of creative commitment is intoxicating. This album was born from scraps of paper scribbled while riding the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan at 4am. It came to life in a steamy apartment on an acoustic guitar played in my underwear because a broken radiator was blasting heat. I would walk through snow to Ludlow Street to play with Richey Rose (Wendy James, Tamaryn, Jennie Vee). We would stay up til dawn singing to each other at the top of our lungs. The music came easily. Nothing felt forced. We treated each song like a sovereign nation with its own set of rules, culture and history. The result is an album of many moods. We were lucky to have Arun lend his talents to mix. He had such a fresh perspective and patience when our ears were tired. Sometimes in order to discover what we liked, we had to first figure out what we didn’t. Mark Buzzard (The Format) has been nothing but a cheerleader as I started my own music career. I was so proud to share these creations with him and honored to have him play keys. I love that everyone left their mark on this record.
AF: When did the moment hit you that fronting a rock band was your calling?
JLD: Sitting behind a screen, fresh from a break-up, at the only 9 to 5 I’ve ever worked (lasted 8 months) while I was still living out of my ’99 Buick Century. It was the only future plan that gave me a will to live.
AF: In a world with no limits to magical realism, you have to go undercover for a spy mission and can only choose one disguise to carry out a secret mission: Disco Glitter Queen, Space Cowgirl, or Candy Raver Rocker – which would it be?
JLD: This is a no-brainer – Space Cowgirl, every time.
Follow High Waisted on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Sarah Magill has been playing in bands, singing jazz and other genres, and writing music for several years, putting out her first EP, Ahem., under the name MYRY in 2018. This year, after noticing another artist releasing music as Myry and growing frustrated with people thinking it was her real name, she’s back under a different moniker, Quiet Takes, which not only references the production process of layering soft vocal takes on top of each other but also provides a subtle critique of our fast-paced internet culture full of “hot takes.”
On “Wanted,” her first single as Quiet Takes and part of an upcoming EP, Magill sings what much of the world is thinking right now: “There better be better days.” With strikingly clear, crisp audio production, the focus of the song is on Magill’s vocals, the lyrics highly audible amid the slow tempo, in the vein of acts like Azure Ray and Bat for Lashes. Magill also filmed a stunning, meditative lyric video for the song while on a trip across the country.
We talked to Magill about the inspiration behind her new music and her creative process.
AF: What is the song “Wanted” about?
SM: To me, “Wanted” is about the space between acknowledging you want something you can’t have… and letting that desire go. The track lives in those ellipses, that gap. I had planned to put out this stripped down version after the release of an upcoming EP (which has a more produced version of “Wanted” on it), but then everything changed. Beyond the pandemic’s catastrophic casualties, we are all grappling with lesser losses: plans, jobs, dreams, relationships, routines, shows, savings, physical touch. Sometimes we only realize what we want when it’s absent. That’s the gift in the grief, but it stings.
AF: Did something in particular inspire it?
SM: I’m very attuned to the feeling of longing. Overly attuned. (Other Enneagram 4s will be able to relate.) I’ve been learning to not be scared or ashamed of that longing, but to be curious about it instead. I’ve learned so much by examining desire instead of ignoring it: Why did I want that job, that experience, that attention, that connection, that relationship, that affirmation? Often, there’s a deeper hunger under the surface longing. The song is inspired by that realization: There’s power in simply stating what you want—or wanted! There’s also power in knowing your worth isn’t attached to whether or not you get what you want. There’s value in examining the longing itself.
AF: What was the concept behind the video?
SM: At least once a year, I take a road trip out west to sing to myself while I drive and gather melodies for new songs. I feel creatively alive but a little untethered during these trips, which usually involve spending days on end alone. Quarantining solo is unearthing similar emotions, as well as a longing for the lost freedom of long drives. So, I went through my old roadtrip footage (all shot on highways between Kansas City and Los Angeles) and edited together some of my favorite clips to create this lyric video. It’s a tribute to those outside-of-time road trips I hope to be able to take again soon.
AF: What was behind the decision to make it black and white? I appreciated the contrast between these visuals and the line, “Starting to buy colors again / Wearing cherries, drinking late gin.”
SM: The decision came from a combination of nostalgia and self-doubt — and it did create a nice paradox with the “colors” line. Nostalgia: I grew up loving black-and-white photography. I shot a lot of Tri-X Pan film for 4-H photography projects! My grandpa had a hobby darkroom at home, and I learned to process black-and-white film as part of high school journalism classes. Self-doubt: I’ve worked with extremely talented visual artists who track color trends and have a deep knowledge of color theory. I admire their command of color, and I don’t trust myself to do color well! So when I’m creating my own visual content, I stick to what I know: black-and-white.
AF: Tell me about the EP you’re working on. What do you sing about on it?
SM: It’s a six-song EP that expands on the theme of longing in “Wanted.” I wrote several of the songs a few years ago, but about half emerged from those road-trip car-singing sessions depicted in “Wanted”’s lyric video. David Bennett (Akkilles) produced the EP. He plays on it, as does [his bandmates in Akkilles] keyboardist Ian Thompson [and] percussionist Bryan Koehler, and [Shy Boys] drummer Kyle Rausch.
AF: How has the quarantine affected how you make music?
SM: Fortunately, all the tracking on the EP is done, with the exception of a few small vocal fixes. David is also mixing the album, which he’s able to do in isolation. My mastering engineer, Zach Hanson, also has a home studio, so we’ll be able to finish this project while quarantining. I’m really grateful for that.
As far as new music goes, I’ve been talking with David about possible isolation recording workflows. I’ve been learning ProTools and Luna and practicing my home recording skills. But I’m also trying to be gentle with myself and not expect too much productivity out of this season. I’ve got a bunch of song starts that I’ll finish eventually, as long as I stay healthy (mentally and physically) during this strange season. I’m prioritizing health!
AF: What are your next plans?
SM: I’m starting to plot the release of that upcoming EP. I’m really excited to share that work, but plans have definitely shifted post-pandemic. I’m currently looking at late summer, but we’ll see. I also have a growing stack of stream-of-consciousness lyric notes and late-night voice notes to go through to see where the next songs will be coming from.
Follow Quiet Takes on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Many people currently quarantined without a partner are feeling their singlehood extra strongly right now, and that can be both a liberating thing and a lonely thing. Singer-songwriter Bryce Drew explores both aspects of the single life in her music, but her song “21” focuses on the lonely side.
“When I was younger, it all seemed so simple / Thought meeting someone was inevitable / I’m not talking diamond rings / Just looking for someone who gets me,” Drew sings candidly, about making it to 21 without ever being in love.
The rest of her songs share the same relatable, conversational lyrics and mellow sound, inviting the listener into her life as she tells little bits of stories like “I thought I found my dream apartment / With all I ever wanted, turned out / It could’ve been a closet” (“Lucky Number”) and “I have an entire queen bed to myself / I don’t have to share the covers with someone else” (“Love Life”). Her videos have the same effect, showing vignettes of what the viewer could imagine as her life, or even as their own lives.
For the release of the video for “21,” we talked to her about the inspiration behind her songs and her path to becoming a musician.
AF: Tell me about your musical background and how you got where you are today.
BD: I’ve been singing my entire life. I was obsessed with music as a kid, memorized every word to every song in every movie. I was pretty shy when it came to singing in front of other people, though, so I joined the choir. That’s how I got my start on stage. I went on to attend music magnet programs for middle and high school and picked up the guitar on my own at 16.
Sixteen was a year full of loss for my family and I, and my first songs came out of coping with that loss. It was then that I really realized the power of music and the level of passion I had for it. A few years later, I moved to Nashville to study songwriting at Belmont University. My four years there were spent building my craft, writing every day, playing, and going to as many shows as possible. I was on a writing trip to LA a year after graduating when I found myself in Greg Wells’ [Adele/Katy Perry/One Republic producer] studio. I played him three of my songs, and he said, “Let’s make a record.” So I jumped at the opportunity, moved to LA a few months later, and began recording. And that’s what you’re hearing now. “21” was the first song I played for Greg that day.
AF: What inspired the song “21”?
BD: I wrote “21” in college on a night I called all my friends to meet up and they were all out on dates. I think it just hit me that everyone around me seemed to have found some version of love, and I was still waiting. The song to me is about patience, expectations, acceptance, and the frustration that naturally comes with those things. The age “21” is a standout one to me because it’s the age my parents were when they first met, and the age most of my favorite artists were on their first records about love and heartbreak, so I guess I always had a vision for where I’d be romantically by then.
AF: What was the concept behind the video?
BD: The video was filmed in my apartment and on one of my favorite beaches in Malibu, Zuma. I am from Miami, Florida, with a Trinidadian background, so I’m sure you can guess that the ocean is an important place to me. It’s where I run to process life and emotions. So, the concept is me venting to the ocean, asking for patience and understanding in love.
AF: A lot of people can probably relate to the idea of expecting to find love by a certain age and then not having that happen. What would be your advice for other people in that situation?
BD: Comparison kills. It’s also natural. Allow yourself to feel, but remember that we all are on our own path. Try and enjoy your life where you are at as much as you can and let it unfold as it does.
AF: How does your song “Love Life” relate to this subject?
BD: “Love Life” is the sister song to “21”! It’s about me deciding to let go and enjoy my life being single in the meantime, making it clear that I’m not just sitting around waiting.
AF: What about your song “Lucky Number” — was there a particular experience that inspired that?
BD: “Lucky Number” was inspired by my move to LA. I was having the hardest time finding a place to live but was constantly seeing my lucky number everywhere. As difficult as the move was, it felt right in my gut, and that thing was my surefire reminder.
BD: It was crazy! Writing and recording are two really vulnerable things, and I’d never had a film crew in the studio before. It was nerve-wracking and exciting at once. I am so glad we have the process filmed to look back on because it was the first song Greg and I wrote together and the first song I ever released as an artist. On top of that, so many got to watch the song unfold and feel like they were a part of the process. Special stuff.
AF: What was it like to study songwriting, and how does that influence your music today?
BD: Studying songwriting was everything I needed as an 18-year-old with three songs in her pocket. I am a total music nerd and could talk about songwriting forever, so getting to break down lyric, melody, and song structure with my friends was right up my alley. It taught me a lot about how to navigate when I get stuck in a bit of a block. My professors used to speak about “keeping the antenna up” for lyric starts, and I find myself searching for inspiration everywhere I can because of that practice. It also taught me that a small edit can make a song a whole lot better and prepared me to be open to criticism.
AF: What are you working on now?
BD: I am currently editing the next music video! I am also writing for a bigger project to come. It feels nice to finally have music out and be able to connect with everyone through it. So, staying connected and building my audience is a big focus right now, too.
AF: What are your future aspirations down the line?
BD: When we can again, I want to tour! Internationally! With a full band! Have a fashion line. Make multiple full albums… create a world. I got dreams. This is just the start of them.
Follow Bryce Drew on Facebook for ongoing updates.
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